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Live Review -- Pinetop Perkins

Chicago Blues Legends Return to Seattle:


 Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Bob Stroger

Jazz Alley

Seattle, WA

 April 28, 2009


Pinetop Perkins 2008
Pinetop Perkins, 2008: by Jennifer Wheeler

By Eric Steiner


Pinetop Perkins returned to Seattle’s Jazz Alley along with a constellation of other Chicago blues legends.  Pinetop brought Muddy Waters bandmates Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on harmonica and Bob Stroger on bass, plus Merle Perkins on drums (he’s played with two Kings: Freddy and Albert). Guitarist “Little Frank” Krakowski showed that he had the blues in a big way, and Willie and Pinetop’s mentorship of this South Bend, Indiana-based stringbender paid off in note-perfect solos, and some stinging slide guitar, throughout the evening.


The band warmed up with a classic blues instrumental, and a dapper Bob Stroger introduced “Don’t You Lie to Me,” a song from another Chicago blues pioneer, Tampa Red.  After a spirited cover of “I’m a Bad Boy,” Bob led the band through a slow, simmering version of Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key to the Highway.”  Bob’s always been one of the best-dressed bluesmen; his suit, lapel bling, and hat set the sartorial standard for the night.  Until Pinetop walked in, of course.  (More on Pinetop’s outfit later).


This is one night that I regretted leaving my camera at home.  After Bob sang most of Big Bill Broonzy’s song to the room without the mic, he lamented and pleaded that he only wanted “just one kiss before I go.”  Former Washington Blues Society president Rhea Rolfe then sauntered to the stage and planted one on Bob, much to his delight.  (Where was my Nikon when I needed it?)


Little Frank’s expert slide guitar helped “Long Distance Call” ring as loudly as it did when Muddy Waters shouted about “another mule kicking in the stall,” but this track was one of the many highlights for me.  Willie “Big Eyes” shared the stage with Muddy behind the drums for many years.  His  latest CD, Born in Arkansas, is a keeper: his version of “Old Woman’s Sweetheart” may have offended a few of the younger ladies in the audience, because “Big Eyes” tips his hat graciously to women with a little experience under their belts.  He also premiered another cut from Born in Arkansas, and while this was an all-ages show, “Rub My Back” certainly had more levels of meaning than just a trip to a masseuse for a sore back.


As Little Frank bent notes within an inch of their life on Little Walter’s “Last Night,” I watched as Willie beamed with pride at the way Frank played.

Pinetop Perkins in red


Willie introduced Pinetop as “the man who was at the Last Supper.”  I’m a lapsed Catholic myself and don’t remember who was gathered around that table, but I do know that Pinetop Perkins has been playing music professionally since the Hoover administration.  Ninety-five-year-old Pinetop was resplendent in a bright red suit, topped with a dashing red Fedora, as he sat on the piano bench.  He started with a visit to the “Chicken Shack,” followed by an upbeat “Down in Mississippi.”  Warming to several standing ovations, his plaintive “Baby How Long” reminded me why I enjoy his latest release on Telarc, Pinetop Perkins and Friends.  This song is available online through, and if that website is not in your favorites’ list, it should be.  


Pinetop started “Just a Little Bit,” but he merged it with a reprise of “Born in Mississippi,” followed by a humorous “Grinding Man.”  Some members of the audience were surprised that Pinetop repeated a song, but I was cool with that.  Cut him some slack.  This Grammy-winning bluesman will be 96 on his next birthday in July, and he gave us about 45 minutes of blues history tonight.  Pinetop’s last song was a lively “Got My Mojo Working,” and Willie & Co. finished out the night with the title cut to his excellent Way Back CD, and a double-entendre’d  romp,“The Creeper.” 


Tonight’s event was an outstanding showcase of classic Chicago blues.  It’s not often that Seattle audiences have the opportunity to experience two-plus hours of authentic Chicago and Delta blues on a Tuesday night.  Over the years, I’ve learned that “Big Eyes” often sits in on the Thursday night jam at Rosa’s on Chicago’s West Side, and whenever he’s in Memphis or Clarksdale, he makes the blues his business at clubs like Rum Boogie or Ground Zero. At the first of two nights in Seattle, Jazz Alley was near-capacity: the venue opened up the second deck, and the local newspapers have been promoting these shows heavily as have local blues radio programs.


Pinetop may have changed the set list, but there’s one thing that I know: he and Willie held court at Jazz Alley until the last customer left, signing CDs and the excellent DVD, Born in the Honey (which includes a live CD with Little Frank on it, too).  To me, that’s showmanship of the highest order, connecting with fans personally long after the stage lights have dimmed. 


These guys do it night after night, and when Pinetop, Willie, Bob, Merle and Frank play at a blues club near you, go see them. 


Eric Steiner is President of the Washington Blues Society (, which won the Blues Foundation’s  Keeping the Blues Alive Award in 2009.  Visit the Blues Foundation at




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